Louisiana lawmakers wading into redistricting debate at LSU summit

A bipartisan group of Louisiana lawmakers is among those set to speak at a redistricting summit taking place today, aimed at tackling gerrymandering ahead of the coming census in 2020, which will spur the next redrawing of electoral maps.

The Louisiana Redistricting Summit, beginning this morning at LSU, was organized in part by a group formed last year with the goal of reforming the state’s electoral map-drawing process. The group, Fair Districts Louisiana, hasn’t endorsed any specific proposals yet.

“Things like gerrymandering and redistricting may seem like contentious topics, but it is one of the few topics on which almost all Americans agree,” said Fair Districts Louisiana organizer Stephen Kearny. “We hope to use this event and events like this to help the state converge on a widely-agreed-upon solution.”  

It is a complicated issue, said Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott.

Redistricting has improved over the decades, he said, along with taking “steps backwards and sideways” along the way. The process of how districts are drawn is perhaps equally important as the high-profile issue of gerrymandering itself, which manifests in many forms, including to protect incumbents and certain parties, at the legislative and Congressional levels.

“This debate is not going to get any simpler,” he said, especially as the U.S. Supreme Court takes on the issue this year.

One of the key questions ahead of 2021 is whether Congressman Cedric Richmond will hold onto the north Baton Rouge section of his district, which also includes much of New Orleans. Another is how Louisiana—a red state that has more registered Democrats than Republicans—will handle potential guidance on partisan gerrymandering. Plus, a widely-agreed upon process for redistricting has thus far proved elusive.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne is the summit’s keynote speaker, and around a dozen state lawmakers will participate in panels discussions, along with political experts and academics.

The effort to reform Louisiana’s redistricting process comes as the future of partisan gerrymandering sits in limbo. The Supreme Court on Thursday delayed a lower-court ruling that would have required Republicans to redraw gerrymandered maps ahead of this fall’s elections. While racially-gerrymandered electoral maps are illegal, the court has yet to rule that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, allowing the practice to continue throughout the country.

But opponents of gerrymandering, including Fair Districts Louisiana, are closely watching the Supreme Court as it wades into the debate, particularly in a Wisconsin case, which hasn’t been decided yet, that could reshape American elections.

—Sam Karlin

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